FOOD POISONING - LISTERIA

The groups most impacted by the health related issues pertaining to food poisoning are pregnant women, newborns and older citizens that have a weakened immunity system. Perhaps the most virulent form of food poisoning is Listeriosis and Listeria outbreaks as sometimes the mortality rate is as great as 25% because of sepsis and meningitis. The meningitis from Listeria is often complicated by encephalitis – a pathology that is unusual to bacterial infections. There are different types of Listeria species. In fact, Listeria was classified in the family Corynebacteriaceae. The family known as Listeriaceae was created within the expanding Order Bacillales which also includes Staphylococcaceae, Bacillaceae and others.

Prior to the 1960’s Listeriamonocytopenes was thought to be associated most exclusively with animals and rarely with humans. In subsequent years Listeria is now recognized to be widely distributed in nature. In fact humans and over 40 species of wild and domestic mammals, birds, crustaceans, fish, shellfish, ticks and flies can acquire Listeria. Listeriamonocytogenics is also carried in the intestinal tract of 5-10% of the human population without apparent symptoms of the disease. The true number of Listeriosis in humans is not known because a majority of adults that have infections are usually asymptomatic and at most produce an influenza-like consequence. The symptoms range from mild influenza-like symptoms to meningitis. It is also possible for healthy individuals to be sickened by the infection, but again, most commonly women, neonates and the elderly are most susceptible. In pregnant women the consequences can be quite serious, even if they do not suffer meningitis or sepsis, an infection of the fetus is extremely common and often leads to abortion, still birth and delivery of an acutely ill infant.

In 1981 there was a mass outbreak which involved over 100 people in Canada and there was a 30% fatality rate. The source of the outbreak was coleslaw produced by a local manufacturer. In 1985 142 people became ill from Listerosis and 30 fetuses or newborn infants died as well as 18 adults. The source of the bacteria was cheese that apparently was contaminated with non-pasteurized milk in the manufacturing process. In 2002 there was a multi-state Listeriamonocytogenics infection outbreak with 46 culture confirmed cases; 3 still births and a miscarriage resulted as well as 7deaths, all linked to eating sliced turkey.

An interesting factor with respect to the spread of Listeria is its ability to multiply in cold temperatures. It can even grow while being stored in the refrigerator. It is most commonly associated with ingestion of milk, meat or vegetable products that have been refrigerated for a long period of time. Just like with most forms of food poisoning it can be blamed upon improper handling of food. Fortunately if diagnosed early enough antibiotics can prevent serious consequences to the disease even in pregnant women. Unfortunately early diagnosis is the exception because it takes time for health officials to discover the nature and the cause of the infection. Out of the 2500 cases of Listeriosis per year in the United States the initial symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle aches and are generally accompanied by fever. If it in fact spreads to the nervous system, then headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and / or convulsions can also incur.

In consequence the Center for Disease Control recommends pregnant women, elderly adults and those with compromise immune systems follow the following guidelines with respect to Listeriosis:

  1. Do not consume hot dogs or lunch meats unless reheated until steaming hot.
  2. Wash your hands and food prep surfaces after handling hot dogs and/or packages.
  3. Do not eat feta, brie, or blue veined cheeses or Mexican style cheeses due to risk of contamination. Cheeses that have a lower risk of contamination are semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella or pasteurized, processed cheeses such as slices or spreads, cream cheese and cottage cheese.
  4. There is an increased probability of contracting Listeria and food poisoning in general from refrigerated pates or meat spreads as well as canned or shelf stable pates.
  5. Refrigerated smoked seafood definitely has a higher risk of contamination.
  6. Raw milk also increases the chance of contracting Listeria.

We represent those who have been poisoned and understand the trauma and suffering which is unique to this disease.

Gary Newland is an attorney practicing in food poisoning. He has offices in Chicago, Libertyville, Arlington Hts., Waukegan and Crystal Lake. He actively represents folks in Cook County, Will County, Kane County, Dupage County, Machenry County and Lake County.